By Ratnasiri Mutukumara – International Relations Officer of Malalasekera Foundation (Secretary WFB Sri Lanka Centre, President WFBY Sri Lanka / Former Assistant Secretary-General, Vice President WFBY International)
In his frequent world-wide peregrinations Professor Gunapala Malalasekera an eminent scholar, eloquent orator and equally competent writer both English and Sinhala who met many scholars and Buddhist leaders who concurred with him that there was an extensive enough international Buddhist community to benefit from a global forum.
U Nu, UWin, and U Chan Htoon of Myanmar, MissI.B.Honer of Britain Sunao Miyabara and Richard A Gard in the USA, Miss. Lounsbery in France, George Krans Kopf of West Germany, Prince Dhani and Princess Poon Pismai Diskul of Thailand, Heinze Mode of East Germany, Venerable Fa Fang of china, Rev. Kosho Ohtani, Shodo Okano and Riri Nakayama of Japan and Khoo Leong Hun of Malaysia are among the many names. We heard Prof.Malalasekera mention as nodes in the network he had in mind. He also sought active participation of Buddhist societies, which Sri Lankans had established in Australia, Britain and Malaysia and elsewhere. One of the numerous Asians who sought a modern role for Buddhism between the first and the second world war was Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar of India though not yet a professed Buddhist gave his fullest support and sought to participate in the inaugural session as an observer.
The World Fellowship of Buddhists (The WFB) founded in 1950 is a unique Religious Organization in the world. It marked the First international Buddhist Organization in history when Buddhists both laity and monastics of nearly all lineages in the world represented and assembled in the same purpose of “One Buddhism”
Encouraged by the support he received from the international community, Professor Malalasekera urged the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress of which he was the president for more than two decades to convene and host the inaugural session never before had an idea fallen on such fertile land. Before long hundreds of willing supporters set about the innumerable task. The Sangha of Sri Lanka in its entirety gave its blessings and encouragement. The Right Honourable D.S.Senanayake the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka expressed his gratification for being associated with what he called “ The First gathering of Buddhists of the World “. Honourable S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, then the leader of the House of Representatives and the Minister of Local Government considered the founding of the World Fellowship of Buddhists a unique occasion which was also one of great significance and importance particularly in the context of the world today.
In a country hardly two years since regaining independence, the Buddhists were hosts to the international Buddhist community, As the Encyclopedia Britannica states:
“One of the great benefits of the World Fellowship of Buddhists founded in 1950 by Professor G.P.Malalasekera has been the role it opened to laymen, under the auspices of this ecumenical movement, laymen and monk Mahayanist and Theravadhis, have enjoyed the unprecedented encounter”.
The World Fellowship of Buddhists (The WFB) founded in 1950 is a unique Religious Organization in the world. It marked the First international Buddhist Organization in history when Buddhists both laity and monastics of nearly all lineages in the world represented and assembled in the same purpose of “One Buddhism”.
The first General conference of this international Buddhist movement, the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) took place at Colombo from May 26th to June 06th 1950/2493. No one can deny that any movement begins with the first step and its significance cannot be overemphasized. The credit for organizing the inaugural session of this Buddhist movement and the first General Conference of the WFB goes to the Buddhists of Sri Lanka under the leadership of eminent scholar and great Buddhist leader Professor G.P.Malalasekera. The WFB was officially inaugurated at Sri Dalada Maligawa, the Holy temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy.
The Sri Lankan organizing committee followed through on its considered view that an event of world-wide importance, the creation of WFB should be held in a place redolent of sacred association with Buddhism. So, it was that on May 25th 1950/2493, a day associated with the Buddhist Vesak in an edifice with renowned holiness in Buddhism that the World Fellowship of Buddhists came in to being.
The meeting did not lose time in adopting a major resolution. “We who constitute this gathering of Buddhists from many countries and numerous organizations from many parts of the world assembled in this venerated shrine of the Holy temple of the Tooth in Kandy once the capital of Lanka’s Buddhist Kings, today pledge ourselves and those whom we represent to make our utmost endeavour to observe and practice the teachings of the Lord Buddha, that we may be radiant examples of living faith, to foster unity, solidarity and brotherhood amongst Buddhists everywhere, to strive with all might and main to make known the sublime doctrine of the Lord Buddha, so that its benign spirit of service and sacrifice may pervade the entire world, inspiring and influencing the people of the earth and their governments to lead the Buddha’s way of life which is for all ages and all climes, that there may be peace and harmony amongst men and happiness for all beings. To achieve this aim we hereby resolve that the World Fellowship of Buddhists be founded and the heads of delegations here present be empowered to implement this resolution and bring it into immediate effect. May the blessings of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha be on us and our endeavours.
This, of course, was the most important decision made by the Buddhists in the post-world war ll era. No wonder, then, that a good part of this resolution was incorporated into the preamble of the WFB constitution which was adopted on June 06th 1950/2493. There were, however, some important resolutions were adopted at the first conference Among them; The Dhammacakka (wheel of the Law) with eight spokes representing the Noble Eightfold path, to be the international symbol and the Six coloured Buddhist Flag, at that time in use in Sri Lanka, to be adopted as the international Buddhist flag. These Two symbols of Buddhism have been recognized by every group of Buddhists throughout the world. The World Fellowship of Buddhists (The WFB) established 68 years ago in 1950, intending to promote amicable global relations among the believers for the sake of propagating the noble teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha and contributing to world peace, meets once in every two years since its formation to receive project reports, review the organization and make plans for the future.
The Second General Conference of the WFB Two years after
the establishment of the WFB in Sri Lanka, the second General conference was held in Japan in 1952 from September 25th to 30 at Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple in Tokyo. The theme of the General Conference was “World Peace”. This was the time when Japan was just beginning to emerge out of World War ll experience. When there was, in that country, great hope for peace and progress after having had the dubious distinction of being the first and only country to have suffered from the aftermath of nuclear bombs.
The third General Conference of the WFB was held in Rangoon (now Yangon) in Union of Burma (now Myanmar) from December 3rd to 6th,1954/2498. The meeting took place in the midst of the Chatttasangayana-The sixth Buddhist Synod.
The Fourth General Conference of the WFB was held at Kathmandu in Nepal from 21st to 25th November in 1956/2500. This was the year of Buddha Jayanthi, the commemoration year of the 2500th anniversary of Sakyamuni Buddha’s Parinirvana.WFB’s President Prof. Malalasekera in his statement at the opening session stated that no more propitious time could have been chosen for an event of this nature and no place could have been found more fitting than Nepal.
The Fifth General Conference of the WFB was held in Bangkok. Thailand at Sala Santiham, the hall of Peace from November 24th to 30th,2501.
The Sixth General Conference of the WFB was held in Phnom Penh Cambodia (Now Kampuchea) from November 12th to 22nd,2504. The Head of State and Government HRH Prince Sihanouk hosted the conference.
The Seventh General Conference of the WFB was held in Sarnath –India.from November 29th to December 04th,1954/2507. In the 14th year of history of WFB, the seventh General conference had the unique feature of being held at the very place where it could be said Buddhism was born. It was held in Saranath, Varanasi India, the venue where Sakyamuni Buddha delivered his first sermon which came to known as the turning of the Wheel of the Law, the Dhammacakra.
The Eight General Conference of the WFB was held at Chiengmai in Northern Thailand from November 06th to 11th 1966/2509. For the first time in its history, the conference had a theme “Buddhism Promotes Peace and Harmony Among Men”
The Ninth General Conference of the WFB took place at Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia from April 13th to 20th,1969/2512. The theme of the conference was “ Buddha Dhamma.
A Way of Life” The Tenth General conference of the WFB was held in Colombo Sri Lanka from May 25th to 30th 1972/2516. The theme of the conference was “World Peace through Buddhism”
The Tenth conference was presided over by its president Princes Poon Pimai Diskul. In her presidential address, Princes Poon mentioned that the young Buddhist leaders recommended that the WFB should set up and sponsor the inauguration of an International Buddhist Youth Organization at this WFB Tenth conference. This became reality when at the closing of the Tenth WFB meeting the parent organization held an inauguration ceremony of the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth with Mr.Nemsiri Mutukumara of Sri Lanka as its First President.
The Eleventh General Conference of the WFB & Second General conference of the WFBY took place at Bangkok in Thailand from February 25th to 29th1976/2520. At the same time, the WFBY second General conference met concurrently. The theme of the conference was: Role of Buddhists in present-day society”
The Twelfth General Conference of the WFB & Third General conference of the WFBY was held at the Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple and Zojuji Temple in Japan with the theme “Buddhists Contributions to the Future “ from October 01st to 06th,1978/2521.
The Thirteenth General conference of the WFB & Fourth General conference of the WFBY celebrating its 30th Anniversary took place at Bangkok and Chiangmai in Thailand from November 22nd to 29th,1980/2524. The theme of the conference was Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Life”
The fourteenth General Conference of the WFB & Fifth General conference of the WFBY was held in Colombo Sri Lanka from August 01st to 11th,1984/2528. The theme was “Buddhism’s contribution to World culture and Peace”.The conference was presided over by the acting president Dr.Sanya Dharmashakthi The fifteenth General conference of the WFB & Sixth General conference of the WFBY was held at Kathmandu in Nepal from November 27th to December 02nd 1986/2529. The theme of the conference was “Lumbini, A Symbol of World peace”
The Sixteenth General conference of the WFB & Seventh General conference of the WFBY was held at Tsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles, California, the USA from November 19th to 26th 1988/2531. This was the first time in WFB’s 38 years of existence one of its conferences was held outside of Asia. The theme was “ Unity for World Peace”
The Seventeenth General conference of the WFB & Eighth General conference of the WFBY has held in Seoul and Pusan a city in the South of South Korean Peninsula in 1999/2533. The Fortieth anniversary of the WFB was also celebrated along with the General Conference.
The Eighteenth General conference of the WFB & Ninth General Conference of the WFBY was held in Taipei and Kaoshiung in Taiwan under the patronage of Master Hsing Yung.
The Nineteenth General Conference of the WFB & 10th General conference of the WFBY was held in Bangkok. Thailand for the fifth time in 44 years existence of the organization.
The Twentieth General conference of the WFB & the 11th General conference of the WFBY was held at the Nan Tien Temple in the Woolongong in the New South Wales State in Australia from October 29th to November 02nd 1998. The theme of the conference was “ Buddhism and Challenges in the 21st Century “
The 21st General Conference of the WFB & 12th General conference of the WFBY was held in Bangkok, Thailand from December 05th to 10th 2000.
The 22nd General Conference of the WFB & 13th General conference of the WFBY was held in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia from December 09th to 13th 2002.
The 23rd General Conference of the WFB & the 14th General conference of the WFBY & 06th Meeting of the World Buddhist University Council was held at FoKuanshan Temple in Taipei Taiwan from April 17th to 23rd,2006/2549. The theme of the conference was “ Buddhism and Tolerance for World Peace “
The 24th General Conference of the WFB & 15th General conference of the WFBY was held at Asakusa View Hotel in Tokyo Japan from November 12th to 17th 2008.
The 25th General conference of the WFB & 16th General conference of the WFBY was held in at Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo Sri Lanka from November 13th to 17th 2010/2554.
The theme of the conference was “Reconciliation Through the Teachings of the Buddha The 26th General conference of the WFB & 17th General conference of the WFBY was held at Ocean Resort in Yeosu, the Republic of Korea from June 11th to 16th 2012. The theme of the conference was “ 21st Century Buddhist Ecological Environment Phenomenon and Practice “
The 27th General conference of the WFB & the 18th Genera conference of the WFBY and the 09th Meeting of the World Buddhist University council was held in the People’s Republic of China from October 14th to 19th 2014/2557.
The 28 general Conference of the WFB & 19th General conference of the WFBY and the 10th Meeting of the World Buddhist University council was held at the Headquarter of Jin- Gak Buddhist order and Hotel Skypark Kingstown Dongdeamun, Seoul, the Republic of Korea from September 16th to 30th2016/2559. The theme of the conference was “ Buddhism in Daily Life, Daily Life of Buddhist.”
The 29th General Conference of the WFB & the 20th General conference of the WFBY and the 11th Meeting of the World Buddhist University Council was held at Marroad International Hotel in Narita and Sojiji Temple in Yokohama from November 05th to 09th,2018/2561. The Theme of the conference was “ Compassion in Action “ This is the fourth time that the Japan Buddhist Federation hosted WFB, WFBY & WBU General Conferences in Japan.